CHICAGO – First Lady Patricia Blagojevich today addressed more than 800 women business leaders and civic leaders at the 33rd annual Women Employed Luncheon. Mrs. Blagojevich, who is the first sitting First Lady in Illinois to own a business, talked about her personal experiences as a working mother and highlighted available state resources to aid working women throughout the state. The First Lady also helped kick off Women Employed’s Working Women for Change initiative that will promote healthy working conditions for all women.
“As a working mother, I know that balancing a career and a family is a very difficult thing to do,” said Mrs. Blagojevich. “As the First Lady of Illinois, I’m honored to try and help other working moms accomplish this demanding task. We have done a lot in Illinois during the past three years to empower women in the workplace, but there is still more that we can do and organizations such as Women Employed are key allies in helping us achieve equality for working women.”
“Illinois has become a leader on issues of importance to working women with the increase in the state’s minimum wage, the Equal Pay Act, and expansion of health care for children. We look forward to more progress through continuing improvements in public policy and greater voluntary action on the part of employers to make sure that all working women can advance economically and care for their families,” said Anne Ladky, Executive Director of Women Employed.
Mrs. Blagojevich is a licensed real estate broker and appraiser. Before becoming the state’s First Lady, Mrs. Blagojevich worked in real estate for more than 15 years, and for the past five years has owned and operated her own real estate company on Chicago’s North Side.
Founded in 1973, Women Employed, based in Chicago, is a leading national voice for improving the economic status and working conditions of American women. Women Employed is focused on policies to increase women’s wages and benefits, so that all women workers can achieve their aspirations and care for their families.
Since taking office in 2003, Gov. Blagojevich has taken numerous steps to improve conditions for working women, including:
All Kids: The Governor’s All Kids program makes Illinois the only state in the country to offer affordable, comprehensive health care coverage for every uninsured child in the state. Of the 250,000 children in Illinois without health insurance, roughly half come from working and middle class families who earn too much to qualify for programs like KidCare, but not enough to afford private health insurance. Through All Kids, comprehensive health insurance will be available to every uninsured child at rates their parents can afford.
Equal Pay Act: Illinois’ Equal Pay Act prohibits employers with four or more employees from paying unequal wages to men and women doing the same or substantially similar work, requiring equal skill, effort, responsibility and under similar working conditions. If the employer is found guilty of pay discrimination, they are required to make up the wage difference to the employee, and may be subject to civil fines of up to $2,500 per violation plus legal costs. Complaints may be filed directly at the Illinois Department of Labor or by calling a toll-free hotline 1-866-EPA-IDOL.
Expansions to FamilyCare and KidCare: Since taking office in January 2003, Governor Blagojevich has expanded health care coverage to over 400,000 Illinoisans. The Kaiser Family Foundation has ranked Illinois first in the nation for ensuring parents have access to health care and second best state in the nation for providing health care to children who need it.
Women’s Health: Since taking office, Gov. Blagojevich has been a proven leader for women’s health, increasing funding each year. In addition, the Governor expanded a program to provide free breast and cervical cancer screenings to uninsured women that has already provided over 98,000 free screenings. Last summer, the governor also signed several pieces of women’s health legislation, including a law requiring insurance companies to cover screening for breast cancer earlier in a woman’s life, and a law requiring insurers to provide coverage for ovarian cancer screening tests for women who are at risk. The Governor also created the Illinois Healthy Women Program that has offered family planning and other health care services to over 167,000 women in the state who were otherwise uninsured.
Making College Tuition More Affordable: Governor Blagojevich recently introduced the MAP Plus program to help Illinois parents afford the rising costs of higher education. MAP Plus will provide a $500 per student grant for sophomores, juniors and seniors from families with incomes less than $200,000 who attend college in Illinois, but did not receive MAP. In total, 225,000 students will benefit from the creation of MAP Plus and the additional funding for MAP. Funding for the MAP program this year is increased by $34.4 million – increasing MAP grants to their statutory maximum of up to $4,968 – which will help more students and their parents afford college.
Preschool for All: Preschool for All makes Illinois the only state in the nation to provide access to high-quality pre-school for every three-year-old and four-year-old child in Illinois. The program, which guarantees 190,000 Illinois children the chance to attend preschool, will reach working families who are not able to afford the high cost of private preschool. Funding for pre-school programs will increase by $45 million this year, allowing 10,000 more children to get an early start on their education. Students who attend preschool are 20 percent more likely to graduate high school, 41 percent less likely to need special education and 42 percent less likely to be arrested for committing a violent crime. Studies also show that for every dollar spent on early childhood education, society saves at least $7 through decreased reliance on social services. Participation in the program for parents is voluntary.